The statistics tell us the dangers – more than 80,000 employees have suffered a work-related injury or illness every day last year. While some types of hazards are often obvious – such as a trip hazard or a moving machine – others can be less obvious. Every workplace, no matter how big or small, will have hazards.
Some of the realities of your workplace will be unique to you, so being aware of these 10 common hazards should help you identify risks in your workplace.
Quick Look: 10 health and safety hazards in the workplace
- Slippery surfaces
- Crushing from heavy machinery
- Hazardous chemicals
- Moving/falling objects
- Not paying attention
- Lack of proper safety training
As a disclaimer: this is a list of the most common health and safety hazards and any workplace could have these hazards somewhere in its operations. Some of the hazards here could be part of your normal operation while others may be due to unexpected incidents. A risk assessment would be carried out in your particular workplace to identify the risks and hazards to working in your environment.
Although there will always be hazards, most injuries and ill health caused in work environments are preventable. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires all companies to perform a risk assessment before a work process can be started. When performed correctly, these assessments provide important information on how to best mitigate the risks associated with a given process, resulting in a safer workplace for everyone.
How Risk Assessment can Prevent Potential Hazards in the Workplace
Risk assessment is the process of evaluating possible dangers or hazards and estimating the probability of their occurrence.
Identifying risks and hazards is the first step in any risk assessment. This is not something that only the health and safety executive or representative needs to be involved in; it is an opportunity for everyone in the organisation to think about the ways in which they have been affected by a particular hazard and whether there is a way to eliminate it or work around it.
What Defines Health and Safety Risks and Hazards?
Risk refers to the likelihood that an employee may experience, or be exposed to, a potential hazard. A hazard is anything that can cause injury or illness when it’s not managed appropriately.
Understanding the Difference
A hazard is a condition or activity that could lead to harm and threatens safety in the workplace should be a top priority. For example, insufficient lighting is a hazard because it may lead to accidents or injuries in the workplace. Risk is a term used to describe the likelihood that a hazard will actually have an adverse effect on your business. For example, you can take precautions against a risk by installing more lights in a dark area of the workplace.
Why do Hazards Cause Injuries?
Unsafe situations resulting from health and safety hazards can happen when:
- a hazard is not recognised
- a control measure is not in place
- the control measure is ineffective
- the control measure is incorrectly applied.
If a risk is not identified, there is a greater chance of an incident going unnoticed and the likelihood of recurrence is increased considerably.
What are common potential hazards in the workplace?
Hazards can be physical (such as machinery), biological (such as bacteria), chemical (such as cleaning products) or environmental (such as poor working conditions) and can vary in the degree of risk that they pose to workers.
What is a hazard in the workplace?
While the above list is a collection of some of the most commonly reported health and safety issues, there are many more you need to prepare for.
List of industrial hazards (And workplace hazards examples)
We’ve covered some of the main categories and provided examples of risks in the workplace.
The world can be a dirty place. But your workplace doesn’t have to be.
People come into contact with biological hazards through food, water, insects, animals and each other. The consequences of being exposed to biological hazards can be very serious. They include food poisoning, sicknesses/diseases that last for a long time or that may affect different organs in the body, allergies, and much more. Because biological hazards can be spread by sneezing, coughing and even breathing, they're very often airborne. As such, they're capable of reaching people at a distance and contaminating work areas. So, while you can't see or smell them, it's essential to take precautions when discovering a biological hazard in your workplace.
Protecting against biological hazards in the workplace is a significant challenge but using PPE equipment can help to mitigate this risk. Considering how easily bacteria, viruses, and toxins move from one place to another, focusing only on areas where you expect to find them may be missing the point entirely. An effective safety program can not only eradicate these biological hazards but reduce your liability in the process.
The prevention and control of occupational hazards, especially in a workplace with chemical hazards, should be a top priority.
Whether working with chemicals in a laboratory or an oil refinery, near a pesticide sprayer or with car batteries indoors, it is important to always assess risks before working with hazardous substances. A dangerous chemical substance is a prime example of an environmental hazard in workplace safety. In commercial or industrial settings, these dangers can occur as a result of spills, leaks and as a by-product of handling certain products.
Chemical hazards can result in injury, illness and death. With the proper precautions, you can ensure a safe work atmosphere while keeping yourself and your co-workers far from harm's way.
Chemical hazards pose serious risks:
- Skin irritations
- Affected respiratory system
- Impaired eyesight, and even blindness in severe cases
Ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you while working with chemicals is an important aspect of handling them safely. Taking the proper precautions, wearing the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and using proper labelling and storage containers will help to reduce and prevent risks and hazards to both you and others who may come in contact with your chemicals.
Example of a common chemical hazard: welding
There are many types of hazards in the workplace, but some duties, like welding, need special attention. In welding, gases are produced from the combination of air with an electric arc or from the burning metal itself. The presence of these gases may create a potential for a fire or explosion or if not properly controlled will be a hazard to health. The health hazards may include burns, shortness of breath and in some cases even cancer.
In addition to the dangerous fumes, welding produces a significant amount of heat. If not properly controlled, the heat will cause the metal structures to become extremely hot and dangerous to nearby personnel.
Example of a common chemical hazard: cleaning materials
Chemical safety hazard labels are mandatory information notices for containers of chemicals that pose a risk to the health and safety of people who may come into contact with them. By providing effective communication about likely hazards, these labels are an effective means of controlling risks associated with chemicals in the workplace.
Chemicals with high levels of acid or alkali, such as strong disinfectants and detergents, present the greatest danger in terms of toxicity and reactivity. They can produce serious effects including:
- skin and eye irritation and burns
- central nervous system (CNS) depression
- respiratory tract irritation
- in severe cases loss of blood pressure with collapse and death.
Falls are the most common physical hazard that causes injury, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The height of equipment, the presence of poorly lit floors, or dark surroundings can make workers feel uneasy as well as contribute to a physically hazardous working environment. Physical constraints may also present dangers such as restricted movement and potholes in the floor leading to injury.
There are many workshop hazards that should be identified before commencing work. It is helpful to use toolbox talks to remind workers weekly, or even daily, about the relative workshop hazards. Use safety briefings to not only give workers a list of hazards- but engage them on how to avoid the main hazards in the workplace specific to their day’s tasks.
While you can’t totally avoid physical hazards like confined spaces or heights, you can use tools such as toolbox talks to encourage and remind workers to follow proper precautions. Safety training is always important, but especially when there are unavoidable risks such as heights or confined spaces. This is why ensuring training is efficient and up to date is absolutely essential for the sake of your workers, as well as your company’s compliance record (and let’s not ignore the insurance records either).
But how do you make sure your employees are absorbing the information dished out during training? Well, you start off by ensuring your training and is engaging and effective. This is where tools like VITS can come in- they organize most of the legwork (bureaucracy) so that safety trainers can focus on the important practical aspect of their jobs and oversee physical hazards on the ground.
Other examples of hazard and risk in the workplace (specifically physical) to look out for:
There are three main types of hazards when dealing with electricity:
- Electrical shock
- Damage to property by fire or explosion
Electrical hazards can be caused by contact with exposed wiring (live parts) or non-contact through the accumulation of charge. The degree of risk associated with electric shock depends on the voltage present in the circuit to which the worker is exposed. The higher the voltage, the more serious will be the consequences of an electric shock.
Fire is considered one of the greatest hazards to life and property. It is one of the most common workplace hazards, so every workplace should have a fire safety policy in place. A fire risk assessment will help you take control of fire safety at your place of work, allowing you to assess the risks that may be there and set out preventative measures to keep people safe.
Confined spaces can be dangerous environments for workers. They carry risks such as:
- Limited oxygen
- Toxic gases
- Severe heat or cold depending on the environment
The hazards of working in confined spaces can be acute or chronic.
Acute hazards present heavy sudden dangers such as asphyxiation, falls from height, entrapment and even crushing. These can endanger life and limb, as well as breaking equipment. Acute hazards may be exacerbated by vibration or noise from machinery running inside a space. In many countries, companies are legally bound to identify any work areas where employees are at risk of developing hypoxia—a lack of oxygen in the body caused by a dangerous build-up of toxic gas. You can take a proactive approach to identify and control these risks with VITS. The art of confined space entry asks for experience, expertise and an understanding of the human response. Let us help you achieve qualified, confident entrants who meet your confined space entry objectives safely and efficiently.
Ergonomic hazards are risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries and result in physical ill-health. Risk factors for ergonomic hazards are conditions present in the workplace that are associated with an increased likelihood of the development of MSDs.
Workplace risk factors include:
- Equipment design
- Work processes
- Workstation setup
- Forceful exertions
- Awkward postures
- Climate conditions
Exposure to ergonomic hazards can result in musculoskeletal injuries such as:
- Back and neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Bursitis and rotator cuff injury
Avoiding these hazards by implementing ergonomic adjustments into the workstation will reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, and avoid the long term effects of chronic pain and workers compensation.
Did you Know?
- Studies show that workers in the UK experience musculoskeletal disorders due to ergonomic hazards at a high rate. In the UK, there were 480,000 workers in 2019/2020 that suffered some form of work-related musculoskeletal injury- a number that accounted for as much as 30% of reported workplace injuries.
- A common ergonomic injury is repetitive strain injury. Affecting as many as 10 million people in the U.S. and Canada, repetitive strain injury by overuse of the hands and wrists. You can often identify this in assembly line workers, or any work that uses the same muscles for their manual handling tasks day in and day out.
All workplaces have psychosocial hazards, even if they are not always so obvious.
These types of hazards can be defined as work-related factors that may put workers at risk of mental health problems.
Some of these factors include:
- Threats to health and safety
- high workloads
Psychosocial hazards are more likely to occur in environments that are tense, uncertain, demanding, unpredictable or otherwise threatening. They can also result from factors that interfere with an employee’s control of their work environment.
Psychosocial hazards are also more likely to occur when the system for managing mental health issues is inadequate. Fatigue, high workloads and other psychosocial factors are causes of hazards that are easily preventable. These hazards can have health effects on any employee, no matter what their role or work setting. They can cause physical and psychological stress and create health and safety risks such as stress-related illness and work exhaustion.
An alarmingly high number of employees iacross the globe work in occupations with a high risk of psychosocial hazards. This has given rise to concerns about poor mental health and wellbeing. But, you can minimise overall psychosocial work hazards by creating a positive mental health workplace culture. Helping staff understand and manage potential mental health hazards in the workplace will help your company and your staff.
Workplace risk assessments help you to control health and safety risks at work. They are a legal requirement for most businesses, so it's important that you carry them out safely and properly. For more information, contact the VITS team about how we can help minimise risk and create a safer workplace.
How to Manage Hazards in Your Workplace
More than 2.3 million people die every year from accidents in work environments. That is a staggering statistic, and the human cost of injuries and fatalities is a tragedy that no employer should have to face.
Top Tip: Encourage Hazard Reporting
While this article constitutes a list of workplace hazards- it is by no means the only workplace hazards to be prepared for. Hazards and risks in the workplace need to be identified prior to any work commencement, and workers should be able to identify hazards in their working environment as they go about their daily duties. Whether it’s an organizational hazard or industrial, workers should be encouraged to report hazards in their working environment. Explain what constitutes a hazard in the workplace to the employees and train them to be mindful of safety in their daily tasks. This encourages hazard reporting, which is a good indicator that your safety culture is on track.
Top Tip: A Safe Workplace Starts at the Top
Employers have a duty to protect their employees from workplace hazards. Workshop hazards and control measures need to be well understood by workers- and the only way to do that is through effective safety training. In theory, every company should ensure that the working environment is safe for their employees. Unfortunately, some companies fail in this respect and find themselves faced with fines, litigation and a series of injured workers.
Health and Safety Systems to Manage Workplace Hazards
A health and safety system is a significant investment in your company’s future. A safe workplace can protect your business from hazards and risk- as well as the resulting lost profits, legal claims, and employee turnover.
Our online platform makes it easy to manage the health and safety of your organisation as well as manage the hazards existing in the workplace. Track progress, educate employees, create policies and carry out inspections, all in one place. Our software means your health and safety training is fast to complete, even if you have hundreds of employees spread across multiple sites. With VITS Health and Safety Software, you have access to an online platform that helps you to manage health and safety processes in your organisation – automate notifications for excessive hours worked, maintain records and paperwork for your employees, and automate many of your health and safety tasks.